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Green Day’s Music Comes Together On Stage

This weekend I flew out to California for my first time. My destination was Berkeley and the world premiere of “American Idiot.” Back in 2004, Green Day released the album “American Idiot” calling it a rock opera and had hopes that it would eventually make it onto the stage.

Back in March, I first reported that the album would be turned into a musical by Michael Mayer, famed director of “Spring Awakening.” Knowing that the world premiere would be in California, I was skeptical if I would be able to attend the performance. A lucky string of events, and some bold travel arrangements on my part made it happen and I couldn’t of been more pleased.
The show adapted every song from “American Idiot” and five songs from “21st Century Breakdown” the bands 2009 release, into a stunning story centered around three main characters. Johnny (John Gallagher Jr) was the center character, playing the persona known to Green Day fans as the Jesus of Suburbia who struggles letting go of his youth and getting out of the drawl town that him and his friend grew up in.
Michael Mayer gets all the credit in my eyes. The job he did translating the music onto the stage was absolutely breathtaking. He followed the original track list perfectly and incorporated eight additional songs into the musical including “American Idiot” b-sides and previously unreleased material from Billie Joe Armstrong.
Without spoiling too much of the play, some of my favorite songs performed were “Extraordinary Girl” “Favorite Son” and “Homecoming.” During “Extraordinary Girl” a wounded war veteran lies in a hospital bed and has a dream that he is saved by a beautiful nurse who takes him to a better place. The entire scene features two cast members flying across the huge stage about 50-feet in the air.
As “Extraordinary Girl” ends Tunny wakes up from his hospital bed singing “dreaming, I am only dreaming, of another place and time, where my family’s from…” Those lyrics come from “Before The Lobotomy” from the bands latest release.
“Favorite Son” a b-side to the original album, features an army recruiter looking for people to join the army. Tunny (Matt Caplan), one of Johnny’s two friends enlists, being dazzled by the glitter of fighting in the war. “Homecoming” is the resolution in the musical as all three friends reunite in their hometown, putting away their troubled pasts and realizing that their shared friendship is the most important thing.
The role of Saint Jimmy was played by Tony Vincent and was the antagonist in the musical. He played Johnny’s drug addiction in human form, always around to tempt him into slipping into a state of hallucination. After making himself known in “St. Jimmy” he reappears over and over eventually slipping a wedge in between Johnny and his girlfriend Whatsername.
During the middle of the performance, Gallagher sits in the middle of the stage with an acoustic guitar and sings “When It’s Time” to Whatsername. This song was originally written by Armstrong for his wife and was never previously released.
Outside the performance itself were the musicians on stage. Located on the right and left sides of the stage were musicians dressed in very “American Idiot” styles, similar to how the band currently performs in live. The lead guitarist on the left side of the stage is even playing a modern era Armstrong guitar.
The story finally comes concludes in the final song of the play. “Whatsername” is performed by Gallagher as he reflects on loosing the girl he loved. As the curtain fell on the cast, the audience stood in unison and gave a long standing ovation.
After the show when asked about what it is like to play Green Day’s music Gallagher responded with “I get nervous just because it’s a Green Day song, I play my own music and say whatever happens, happens, if I screw up it’s cool it’s my song. When you’re on stage playing Green Day songs I get a little shaken up.”
Overall it seemed that everyone in attendance loved the show although many older audience members didn’t understand it as well as younger generations. When speculating about if the show will make it to Broadway there seemed to be an underlying answer of yes it will although it is still a long way off. If it does make it to Broadway an entire generation of Green Day fans will be able to experience an amazing story written by one of the most inspirational bands of the generation.
One thing is for sure. Although I speculated back in March that true Green Day fans would be against this move, it seemed to me that the fans of theater and Green Day a like have embraced the idea, as it gives true life to a great album.

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1 Legacy Comment

  • Comment by SF Bay Area posted October 12, 2009 at 22:46

    You revealed too much of the story. this is not really a review – but someone interpreting Mayer's and Armstrong's book – it would have been nicer if you talked about the production and not revealed so much of the show and its details,, – its like revealing too much about a movie,
    – your last graph was ok – but the rest of the blog was not needed ..